Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind and the leader of this burgeoning addiction treatment movement, is an overachiever. She grew up in a log cabin without electricity, yet went on to become the youngest VP of a major multinational corporation. In spite of this, or in part because of it, she became an alcoholic. As an overachiever, she realized this was negatively impacting her life on many levels, and she set out to find out what was involved in quitting. I’ve been going through a similar set of questions personally, as I look at my life in my mid-sixties, and at things I want to change.
I was led to This Naked Mind by two different writers grappling with quitting and this was enough to pique my curiosity, so I ordered the book and read it. It is a very unusual book, structurally. As a writer who has written several non-fiction titles, I was intrigued by what she is doing with her approach. The basic approach is to pack all the terrible facts about alcohol as a poison into every page. And it is convincing. She knows, as I’ve personally recognized, that the marketing and social pressures around this ‘acceptable’ drug, are powerful beyond measure. We are literally swimming in an atmosphere seemingly designed to integrate booze into our society. Grace fills the book with terrible fact after terrible fact. The idea is to gradually convince our subconscious mind that it is crazy to be poisoning ourselves daily for an imagined amount of pleasure. And a real amount of feeling terrible after.
Her theory is that our conscious (surface level) attention may know these facts but it is our subconscious mind that makes the decisions. And it is the part of us that has been programmed to do so with alcohol consumption. Have fun, loosen up, relieve stress, be more socially acceptable, advance your career- she looks at all these myths of the benefits of drinking and disassembles them. I just don’t know if reading a book can change us on the basic level she is seeking. But it has helped many people.
There is an oddity in this book and it references the title, This Naked Mind. Throughout the book she refers to This Naked Mind as though it were a third object or protocol, without ever really defining it. As I read, I wondered when she was going to lay out her process, the process she referred to as This Naked Mind. There is a chapter eponymously title This Naked Mind towards the end of the book, but when I reached it (she asks that you not read ahead), it was more of what had come previously.
I completely agree with her fact-finding and had come to these conclusions and understanding myself. But acting on them has proven very challenging, to put it mildly. I have the utmost respect for those who have quit, even for a 30 day challenge. I hope, when I achieve that, that I stay with being sober. Even one day off is a huge improvement. But apparently my subconscious still wants that next martini.
The willpower myth
One of the book’s primary messages is that simply willing yourself to change won’t work and can be a crushing responsibility. This may be the strongest takeaway I’ve gotten from it in the first week or so after my first reading. I was reminded of this today when I read this article on sobriety from fellow Medium writer Gayle Macdonald. She has a pretty devastating tear down of the typical things people tell themselves they will do to moderate their drinking. I have literally told myself every one, to no avail. Both Macdonald and Grace put it simply: just quit and work your way through it. They’ve both done it so I’m seeing them as examples to my subconscious self.
The being inside of us
Eckhart Tolle defines addiction as being controlled by a being in our mind whose sole job is to want us to indulge. This petty being has a lot of control, more than it ever deserved. His suggestion is that when this being is prodding us to have another drink or get high we should pull back, take three breaths, and see the pitiful thing whose commands we’re following. I’m not sure why but this makes sense to me.
A note about AA
If you work your way through the information about addiction you will inevitably encounter AA or other groups doing the higher power, twelve step approach. And it has helped people. But for many years, nearly a century, it has been the only approach sanctioned by the healthcare establishment. This myopia has ignored the reality that AA has a pretty terrible success rate, a fraction of a percent after a year of participation. It also does not appeal to people like me, a Buddhist, who do not believe in a higher power and surrendering ourselves to it. Many critics see it’s approach as simply replacing one addiction with another. I think this is harsh, but I know few people who have had success with it. I’ve been to meetings and found it unbearably depressing, to be honest, with people drinking too much coffee and heading outside every time they can to smoke. They also assume a myth that alcoholism and other addictions are a disease. This is simply not true, clinically, and there are not people ‘born’ with a gene for addiction, another myth. Grace addresses their approach without tearing it down. However, it is virtually unchanged since 1934 and we know a great deal more these days about addiction.
Grace includes a chapter on the phenomena she calls spontaneous sobriety, a circumstance where an individual abruptly decides to quit and never looks back. I know people who have done this but I’m not sure how. However, if this is possible, it unravels those myths about disease and genetics being factors. I wish the book had explored more examples of this and a little about what these fortunate people did. She only gives one example, her father, and doesn’t get deep on it. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think that anyone who actually quits has to come to that point where the math doesn’t add up. Is that spontaneous?
If you are trying to quit, I definitely recommend the book as one more piece of the puzzle. It really is training for a part of us that must be convinced before we can walk away from this addictive drug.
I intend to reread the book to see if I can unravel its structure and to send another set of warnings to that mind being that wants to drink. Our subconscious mind does learn from repetition, just as we learn physical skills from practice.
Note: there are no affiliate links in this article. You can learn more about the book at https://thisnakedmind.com/
Note: Since I wrote this I have gone back and reread the book. I’ve also done a deeper dive on her website and am sorry to say that she is selling programs to help people quit drinking. I’m sorry because until you get all the way to the signup phase of her programs there is no mention of fees. As a marketer I recognize a classic online sales process where you build a compelling story for quite a while before revealing that you are selling something. Ordinarily, I’d spot this stuff immediately, but I actually thought this was an altruistic site to help others achieve what she has achieved. It is not, at least not entirely. So, I recommend the book but leave you to determine whether her other services are worth pursuing.